Montefiore psychiatrist discusses how to prepare kids for an unusual school year

Dr. Zubair Khan, child psychiatrist at the Montefiore School Health Program.
Courtesy of Montefiore

In a typical year, August tends to be around the time when students begin to feel the back-to-school jitters. And this year is no exception.

In fact, with all the turbulence and disruption of the last school year, many more children could be feeling anxious about how this September is going to go.

Dr. Zubair Khan, child psychiatrist at the Montefiore School Health Program, advised that families need to have open and honest conversations well ahead of the start of school and continue these conversations often throughout the year.

“The first thing to do, which is very important, is to acknowledge that it’s going to be an unusual year,” Khan said.

Montefiore School Health Program consists of 31 school-based health centers located in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Bronx. It provides access to more than 40,000 students in over 90 schools, some school campuses which house one clinic, have several schools in the building.

Founded in 1983, the program has steadily grown through a collaborative effort between the New York City Departments of Education, Health and Mental Hygiene and Montefiore Health System.

Khan, who has been in the child psychiatry field for four years, spoke with the Bronx Times about mental health and how important it is.

“I think a lot of parents have a lot of concerns about their kids going back to school,” he said. “Parents are worried about how schools can maintain procedures and protocols.”

Khan explained that while therapy and talking to someone is helpful, it is often viewed as taboo in many cultures, especially in the Bronx amongst immigrant and color communities.

“It’s definitely true across the board there’s a stigma in mental health,” Khan stated. “Kids are more open minded than adults. The challenge is trying to get parents and adults on board.”

According to Khan, children in the Bronx often end up meeting with a mental health professional because they act out in school and a teacher recommends it. More often than not, he said that it helps the situation once the student sees someone.

These youngsters find therapy as an outlet to get things off their chest that they don’t feel comfortable talking about at home.

He said that the children often grow up in violent neighborhoods riddled with drugs, gangs, trauma and families that struggle financially. Now with the added challenge of dealing with COVID-19, it is crucial that young people have someone to speak with.

“These kids go through a lot,” he remarked. “Our goal is to always have the child and parents work together. The more resources they have for mental health the better it is for them.”

As school begins in roughly two weeks, the doctor suggests that parents help kids understand what they are walking into, reinforce that the new environment is intended to keep everyone safe and healthy, maintain a schedule at home, make sure they are getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and getting physical activity every day.

“Coming back to school after a long layoff is going to be a difficult transition for many people,” Khan said.

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